Taking creative risks

When I found out Javier Bardem had married Penelope Cruz, I was heartbroken. When she gave birth to their son, Leo, though, I resigned myself to the idea that he would never leave her for me. Still, I continue to follow his film career because I can’t help myself.

Although he was extraordinary in The Sea Inside and in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I think his best film so far was Biutiful, in which he plays the dying Uxbal and for which he received a 2011 Oscar nomination. There are few actors who can ennoble suffering the way he does, and there are few who can embody sociopathy like he can.

In No Country for Old Men, for instance, he won an Academy Award for his role as the diabolical Anton Chigurgh. In the new James Bond film, Skyfall, he is equally chilling as Raoul Silva, the bleached-blonde cyberterrorist at the center of the movie. Unlike the villains in other Bond movies, though, Silva is multidimensional, and Bardem’s performance is nuanced and infused with the kind of suffering he has brought to his other roles.

As I think about Bardem’s movies, I can’t help but reflect on what it means, and what it looks like, to take creative risks. It’s got me thinking about my writing…and about playing it safe. Or not.


Two big ideas for my too little mind

The other night, I saw After Fall, Winter, a recently released film starring Eric Schaeffer and Lizzie Brocheré.  When it was over, I couldn’t stop weeping, and I still want to cry when I think about it. Although it was mauled by critics, I thought it was a courageous, well-acted movie with a plot line that surprises and an ending that rivals that of Romeo and Juliet. One thing is for sure: It is not for the lily-livered.

I won’t go so far as to recommend it because you’ll blame me if you hate it. But, I do want to say something about a scene that lingers. In it, Schaeffer’s character Michael is talking to Brocheré’s Sophie about whether or not she believes in a God who watches over and guides her, and she tells him she thinks God has better things to do with His time.

“Like what?” he asks.

As one whose faith in the Divine has for so long careened between tepid and on fire, I was stunned by this response in the way I am always surprised by an idea that compels me to reexamine what it is I think I know. Although I had come to believe that the notion of a God nosing around in the affairs of mortals was nothing more than a human construct designed to soothe, I see now that the idea of a God tending to matters more important than those of His creations is equally limited. Both perspectives anthropomorphize that which cannot be known in any ordinary way.

Some months back, I had the good fortune of meeting up with another idea I could never have come to on my own. I was listening to a very interesting interview with Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who won a Nobel Prize for work that advances the idea of an expanding, rather than a contracting, universe. At one point, interviewer Terry Gross said something about how frightening it is to contemplate a universe that goes on forever.

Dr. Perlmutter said it is just as frightening to contemplate one that does not.